Same observation with multiple observers

While I was reviewing a number of observations within one of my projects, I noticed multiple observers posting nearly identical photos. I’m not aware that there are any specific iNat rules about this phenomenon. From a closed topic, I see this has been discussed, but some feedback did not seem very serious. I have this problem with students in my classes when I require them to join iNaturalist and contribute observations made during class trips and at other times. I’ve gone back and re-instructed them that only one person may post an observation of a particular animal on a particular occasion. Below is an example I ran into among a group of turtles of interest. I noticed three nearly identical photos of two very young individuals of the turtle Rhinoclemmys areolata – this is an interesting observation. All three photos were taken within about 45 minutes and the locations are very close (but hard to be definitive because of obscured geographic data). I made a comment about possibly combining observations, to which the observer responded, and I tried an explanation.

These are the observation numbers if you want to check it out + the observer’s username.

30212906 – rolandopasosprez

30211522 – trinchan

30199384 – ramontrinchan

30197164 – trinchan ; couple of hours later of a hatchling/near hatchling/ maybe one of the same?

An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location. I would add that it is ‘an’ encounter with one (or more) human(s) and there is not need (in fact it’s wasteful) for multiple observations of that one encounter just because there was a class or tour group of 10 present and snapping photos–it is in fact only one observation of one encounter, just by multiple humans. I guess what I may do is check into adding an association link.
The other issue I see is the geographic one since each ‘observation’ is independently obscured – even as a curator I have thus far only been able to retrieve these obscured geographic coordinates; plus it is likely there is a little variation in the camera GPS receiver from camera to camera.

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This has discussed at length in other topics. Each observation records an encounter between an individual human observer and an organism. If there are ten humans present, then each of the ten observers can record observations with that one same organism. iNaturalist is, in this sense, a personal journaling of encountered organisms. Comments in the following topics make this rather clear.

One could use the observation fields to link the observations together, including a proposed way to link groups of observations

Forgive me if I have misunderstood the issue!


A couple of comments, even as a curator you can not see obscured coordinates. No curator can see these. The only option is to have each of your students follow you which then allows them to configure you as a trusted user which means seeing their true locations.

There is no facility for shared observations between users. It has been requested multiple times but it does not appear to be something the site is interested in pursuing. Even the scope of the prior requests has been narrower than your objective, it has been shared within the confines of the inat definition of a record which means the people would have been together and saw it at the same place and time.

Adding the capacity to add 1 record for a unique organism and then allow as many users as wanted to record when they see them has never been really discussed as far as I an aware.


What you’re describing is exactly what you see in bioblitzes.

There doesn’t seem to be any issue with those, so I don’t really see any issue with this either.


Further (with few exceptions), any person besides the observer(s) can link records together using the “similar observation set” field. If it’s an issue within a class project, a teacher could perhaps assign a class helper to look through and link things in a logical way.

A benefit to multiple linked records of an individual among different observers is that subsequent identifiers get multiple perspectives to nail down a species id. I had this benefit while looking at a class’s pictures of a decayed object on the ground. There were many guesses about mushrooms etc, but with enough angles I could see it was a gourd and then go back and identify all the dozen observations as a gourd.


Other potential benefits:
Multiple vantage points and angles can potentially help reconstruct things like true color, true size, even 3d shape all of which are not only cool but valuable for ID, research, education, engagement.

The same thing through time can give you a better sense of behavior or slight changes in things like positioning


I think it’s up to the observer to be aware of others using the site and make a note that theirs was observed by other students in the group. If it was an independent observation by another hiker of the same animal but in a different spot, I would think that was a legit observation because it was essentially a “recapture” and has value. But if the data, date, time, and animal pose are the same the observer or the teacher should make a note that it is a duplicate so data miners can know without too much effort on their part. Data miners should be vetting the observations they mine no matter how common the organism.


As an instructor, I do try to encourage students to find unique observations. An exception might be a student with a lifetime list or an unusual observation – I do this because I want students to “do their own work.” :-) Hadn’t thought of the database issue, however.

I have seen an observation I made in the wild of something interesting (a plant) only to see the same observation from almost the same angle by another person a day or two later. Absent an algorithm to block or combine duplicate observations, I suspect reducing student tendency to flock to a known or “easy” observation is about as good as it gets. Interesting issue about using the iNat data more broadly, though.

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